Many people who are new to scrap metal may be wondering what the best things to scrap for money might be. While there are some metals that might pay up to $3 or more per pound, many of even the higher paying metals only typically pay between 25 cents to 65 cents a pound.
Today we’ll take a quick look at the different types of metals you can scrap. And yes, it pays to sort! You should always sort your scrap metals so that you can make the most money possible when scrap metal recycling. Most scrap yards will not pay you the best rates if your metals are not sorted.
Which Metals Are the Best for Scrap Metal Recycling?
While there is no “one best” metal for scrap metal recycling, there are some metals which pay more than others. Using a magnet is just one way to start identifying the metals which are the most valuable when you take metal to the scrap yard.
Find the Most Valuable Scrap Metals with a Simple Magnet Test
The easiest way to sort your metals from the ones which are valuable and pay more per pound from the ones that pay the least is to use a magnet. Ferrous metals will stick to the magnet. If the metal sticks to a magnet, it is most likely not worth very much – maybe 5 cents a pound if you are lucky!
Ferrous metals typically pay the least per pound, however this is not always a bad thing. These metals are very common, and often can be very heavy. While you won’t get a lot per pound, it is a lot easier to go for quantity with ferrous metals.
Non ferrous metals will NOT stick to a magnet. Metals such as copper, brass, aluminum, silver, and gold will not stick to a magnet. These metals are worth a lot more at the scrap yard, especially if you take the time to sort them.
How to Sort Your Metals for the Best Prices
When we go to the scrap yards, we typically sort our metals into several piles. When your metal is sorted, you will get a much better price. If the metals are not sorted, you will only get paid for the shredder value, which is about 5 cents a pound – even if there is aluminum or copper in the pile.
Here are the piles we usually make:
Shredder: This is a pile of assorted ferrous metals which are magnetic. These metals are mostly iron and steel alloys, not including pure stainless steel. This pile is usually the easiest to find things for. It could be a mix of nails and bottle caps, a rusty old bucket, old building materials, or even furniture like metal desks and filing cabinets. This pile we don’t sort much – if something is magnetic, it goes in this pile.
Stainless Steel: Pure stainless steel is not magnetic. If something is stamped “stainless” or it’s something like a stainless steel appliance such as a dishwasher, this does not necessarily mean it is true stainless steel. The best way to know if the stainless steel is true stainless is to look for a stamp that says “stainless steel” – and then take a magnet to it. Even if it says “stainless steel”, you will not get stainless steel prices if a magnet sticks to it, so always check with a high quality magnet first!
Aluminum: There are a lot of different types of aluminum, and you will usually do best in sorting the different types of aluminum. Aluminum cans are easy to collect, you can get them from parties or even ask your friends and family to save them for you. If you want to be very industrious, you may wish to remove the pull tabs from your aluminum cans. The pull tabs are pure aluminum, which will get you a higher price than just a can with the pull tab on it. Better start collecting now though – it can take anywhere from 1,200-1,500 pull tabs to equal one pound!
Brass: We get a lot of brass, and it is important to know there are different types of brass. Red brass, which has a higher copper content, will pay more than yellow brass. If you have a lot of brass, you will want to make sure you sort it before you go to the scrap yard. You’ll also want to sort out any that are dull in color – if it is clean you may be able to get bronze prices.
Bronze: Bronze is often confused with brass, but it has a distinct difference for those who spend enough time sorting through metals. Bronze is 90% copper and 10% zinc and typically pays more than brass. Bronze must be clean in order to get the best prices, otherwise at best you will get brass prices.
Copper: Copper is always a favorite for scrappers everywhere. While copper can be more difficult to find, especially if you aren’t a plumber, you can still extract it from a number of different items, such as old appliances. You may wish to further sort your copper into “clean” and “not-clean”. Clean copper has no solder or burn marks and will always yield you the highest prices at a scrap yard.
Wire: There are a lot of different types of wire, but we typically start with just making one big pile of wire. We don’t get a lot of wire, so for us this makes the most sense. We typically cut the wires off of whatever else we might be scrapping. This means if we have an old appliance that no longer works, we cut the cord off of it so that we get paid higher prices for wire at the scrap yard. Some scrap yards have different policies for wire. Some will pay for assorted wire, others will only pay for certain types of wire that has already been sorted. If you are very industrious, you can also invest in a wire stripper, which helps extract the pure valuable metals such as copper.
Electric Motors: Small electric motors are an often overlooked source of getting higher prices at a scrap yard. These can pay up to 14 cents a pound, and they are typically heavy – so if you collect about 20 these a month you will see a nice return that makes the trip worthwhile. You can find electric motors in everything from a washing machine to a sewing machine to even an old electric drill.
Computer Chips: Computer Chips have gold in them. If you have any old computers, it definitely is worthwhile to either take in the chips separately for recycling or to try to safely extract the gold yourself if possible.
Batteries: Car batteries and other small engine batteries are another often overlooked item you can usually do well with at the scrap yard. As long as its a Lead-acid based battery, you often make between 30-40 cents a pound, depending on where you are and the current supply and demand. People LOVE getting rid of old batteries, so this is often something you can offer to take for neighbors and friends and cash in for a win-win situation.
The Best Things to Scrap for Money Are What You Can Get Regularly and Easily
While there are certainly some metals that are more valuable than others, it only makes sense that the more often you scrap, the more money you will make. If you are able to go to the scrap yard with a ton of shredder metal 2-3 times a week, this will inevitably pay a lot more than it would if you only collected aluminum cans and it took you 10 months to get enough to make it worth the trip.
If you have a steady source for collecting scrap metal, you will be able to easily find what things are worthwhile and what things you like doing the most.
The other thing to take into consideration is storage and processing space. Some metals take up a lot of space. If you are scrapping things like washing machines and large household appliances, you would likely run out of space very quickly – not to mention need to have the equipment and ability to move and lift these items yourself.
On the other hand, if you decided to specialize in something small and lightweight, you could start scrap metal recycling with just a shelf and a corner in your garage.
The scrap metal prices change often, so it is always best to consider the timing of when you sell your metals as well. Scrap yards are much busier in the summer months than in the winter months, so it can sometimes be worthwhile to wait until you have a large load for the colder months than scrapping it while the scrap yards have more supply than demand.
Want the Most Money? Don’t Forget to Check the Resale Value Before Scrapping
When you are a scrap metal recycler, it’s easy to start thinking everything in terms of what the scrap yard might pay. However, there are a LOT of other avenues to making money with scrap metal. For example, many people use metal objects for crafting. People make all sorts of items out of soda can tabs, old broken jewelry and more.
You should also always check to see if an item you are considering scrapping might have antique or collectors value. For example, one time we got an old metal ride-on John Deere pedal tractor. At the scrap yard, we might have only gotten about $15 for it – but we sold it in 1 day by listing it in a local Facebook group for $150. Same thing goes for old dishes, lamps, pots, pans and more.
It pays to do some research to see if an item might have collector or antique value. You never know what kinds of crazy things people will buy on sites like Ebay or Etsy!
Patience Pays Off When Scrapping Metal for Money
The best way to make money with scrap metal is to simply start. It can take a few years of practice before you get really good at sorting the different metals. However, with patience and practice you will find yourself soon being able to recycle almost anything you don’t need or use anymore!
Need a steady source of getting free scrap metal to take to the scrap yard? Be sure to also check out our post on Where to Get Free Scrap Metal to Sell for Money.
Do you have any scrap metal tips to share with others? What are your favorite types of scrap metal that pay well? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!